Fleet Management

Spot Freight Rates Higher Than Expected as Truckload Volume Dips

May 11, 2017

By Evan Lockridge

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A gauge of the spot truckload freight market fell slightly last month but remained above levels from the same time the previous two years.

The DAT North American Freight Index fell 2.5% in April from the month before as volume remained above seasonal norms, signaling a solid start to the second quarter of 2017, according to DAT Solutions and its network of load boards.

Freight volumeincreased 60% in April compared to the same time a year ago as average spot truckload rates rose for vans, refrigerated, and flatbed freight, on both a month-over-month and year-over-year basis.

"It's not unusual for truckload freight activity to give ground in April, but national average load-to-truck ratios and rates last month were higher than expected," said Mark Montague, DAT industry pricing analyst.

While van demand declined 4.5% compared to March, the national average load-to-truck ratio was up 8% and rose 127% year-over-year.

The load-to-truck ratio measures the number of available loads for each truck posted on the DAT Network of load boards, and is an indicator of the balance between capacity and demand for freight services, according to the company.

That balance favored carriers in April, as indicated by an increase in the national average spot rate of $1.67 per mile for vans, up 4 cents compared to March and 17 cents higher when compared to April 2016, including fuel surcharges, but not accessorials or other fees.

The spot reefer freight market experienced a similar trend. Reefer demand declined 5.4% compared to March, but was 87% higher than compared to a year earlier. The load-to-truck ratio rose for reefers, and so did truckload rates. At $1.94 per mile, the average spot reefer rate was 7 cents higher compared to March and 14 cents better year-over-year.

In the flatbed segment, the national average rate increased 4 cents to $2.07 per mile compared to March and was 17 cents higher than it was in April 2016. Flatbed demand has been robust, and load-to-truck ratios are elevated, so far this year, but freight volume was virtually unchanged, down just 0.3 percent, compared to March, but increased 43% compared to April 2016.

Reference rates are based on $33 billion of actual transactions between freight brokers and carriers, as recorded by DAT.

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